How we comprehend and interact with cities doesn’t often come to mind. It happens unconsciously – or so we think – yet there is a lot of thought and planning that goes into constructing a city, which later impacts how citizens interact with it. One local artist is working on a cartography project that aims to reveal the creative, abstract beauty that’s hidden in city planning.
Everyone’s held a map at some point in life, usually when visiting a new place. Nowadays, our interaction with maps is mainly through Google Maps, yet whether looking at a digital or paper map it holds a lot of context and history about a place.
Connections and attachments are formed between people and cities and places evoke certain feelings. You might love Nicosia because it’s your hometown, or your university city or because it was there you got your first taste of freedom at 18.
Local artist Marina Kyriakou is fascinated by maps as both a tool for navigating a place and a unique piece of art. With a background in architecture and urban planning, she has been paying attention to the relationship of cities, communities and their surroundings for years.
She began creating handmade maps as souvenir gifts for friends who were in different parts of the world and as more people showed interest, Flânerie was born.
Flânerie is a creative cartography project that developed through Marina’s interests: as an architecture student using paper and cutters to make models was something she had a lot of experience in so creating maps using those materials was an enjoyable pastime, she told the Cyprus Mail.
But why paper? It’s a cheap material and offers many possibilities.
Flânerie addresses anyone who feels connected to a city. “I invite map-lovers to ‘fly’ above their favourite cities and remember the narrow streets, the avenues, the parks and the features that make every city a unique place,” said Marina.
“I use cartography as a means to share stories about people’s experiences and people’s attachment to places. Therefore, I often customise the maps in order to include specific streets that mean something to the receiver of the map.”
Over the years, Marina has created maps of cities from all around the world. Most, she admits, are of Nicosia which she depicts as a whole. As a project that illustrates the beauty of a city seen from above, Marina doesn’t want to add any other interpretations to her work so when it comes to the capital’s map, the division of the Green Line isn’t something she includes.
Nicosia has a very identifiable shape, she adds, because of the Venetian walls that look like the sun, a flower or a mandala. “I love the intra-muros city of Nicosia, the part of Nicosia within the Venetian walls. It feels like a medieval labyrinth unlike the atmosphere in the streets outside the walls that were designed with contemporary intentions. I love the narrow streets with old buildings with yellow stone facades and lots of flower pots outside the doors.”
While it was Nicosia that inspired the project in the last couple of years Flânerie has travelled to around 50 other cities that map-lovers have asked Marina to make including many that she hasn’t been to herself though she says that by visiting them virtually during her research is a blissful pleasure.
“In this way, I feel that I know these cities pretty well, just because I have spent time trying to understand them and to identify the important locations to include in the map.”
So, why the name Flânerie? There’s quite a philosophy behind it, not just by Marina but by some of the world’s leading theorists. In French, a flâneur is someone who strolls aimlessly and poet Charles Baudelaire and philosopher Walter Benjamin produced many of their notable works inspired by this figure of the urban stroller and the connoisseur of the street.
Though always fascinated by street life and the life between buildings, when Marina discovered the term, she says she was seduced by its romantic perspective on the urban experience through the exploration of daily life in cities.
To be a flaneur means to travel in urban space without a specific destination or aim and observe life and surroundings. In the 19th century when the idea was born, the aimless strollers took it to heart. “Almost two centuries ago,” Marina explains, “flâneurs took turtles for a walk in the arcades, setting a slow pace for them to enjoy the city.”
The quote Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause by Bruce Feiler inspired Marina’s project and is an invitation to be mindful when walking in the city. Yes, it’s important to walk without purpose in familiar places too. Yet, like many things, that’s easier said than done.
“I am more of a flâneuse when I am in an unknown place than in my own city,” admits Marina. “All my senses come to life and I stay curious waiting for my environment to stimulate the way I explore a new city. But I do like to switch on Flânerie mode sometimes to interrupt the monotony of my routine in Nicosia. I observe the habits of people and the little details that are often not noticed by the majority of us. Also, I like to change my itineraries when I have time, in order to see new or different streets.”
Perhaps it would be good to be a little more like Marina, or Flânerie at least. To revisit the places we think we know all too well, to understand our surroundings better, their stories, purpose and history and ultimately, to understand the self.
“I think it would be refreshing for most people to try to be more like Flâneurs. A Flânerie overlooks the intentionality of our movement in the city and requires a more creative and accepting mindset. Strolling around aimlessly allows us to be surprised and discover the place we already live in.”
It could be that the Flânerie walks and playful activities in the city that Marina wants to hold in the future will be a convincing take to the art of blissful, aimless urban strolls.